Monday, June 24, 2013

Perspective taking

"Perspective taking goes far beyond empathy; it involves figuring out what others think and feel, and forms the basis for children’s understanding of their parents’, teachers’, and friends’ intentions. Children who can take others’ perspectives are also much less likely to get involved in conflicts."

Children learn perspective taking skills when we are willing to understand their perspective.

When we are gentle with ourselves, especially when we feel we are at our "worst," we begin the process of moving through our past and creating a present with children where everyone's perspective and everyone's needs have value.

We go beyond the either-or mentality and open the possibility that we can meet everyone's needs.

Read more: How children learn perspective taking

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Little Guide to Contentedness

by Leo Babauta

There has been little in my life that has made as much an impact as learning to be content — with my life, where I am, what I’m doing, what I have, who I’m with, who I am.

This little trick changes everything.

Let’s take a look at my life before contentedness:

I was addicted to junk food and fast food, and overweight and unhealthy. I bought too many things on impulse, owned too much clutter, and was deeply in debt and struggling to make it to the next payday. I was unhappy with who I was, wanted desperately to change, tried a thousand different programs and books. I was always worried I was missing out on exciting things, and wanted so much to be out doing the fun things everyone else was doing. I was always changing the way I did things, because it seemed everyone else had a better system or tools. I strove to meet goals, because they would get me to a better life.

And as I learned to be content, here was what changed:

I learned to be happy with healthier food, with less food, and my health improved and waistline shrunk. I relied on a good book, spending time with people I loved, going for a nice run … and my debt began to be reduced as I learned I didn’t need to spend money to enjoy myself. I learned to be happier with who I was, and what I was doing, and so no longer needed self-improvement books and programs, no longer needed to try all kinds of new systems and tools. I became happy with myself, with those around me, and with what I had — and so didn’t need to strive to change everything. Letting go of goals helped me to simplify things so I had less to worry about, less to do.

That’s just the start. There is no way to account for the tremendous change that happens when you learn to accept who you are, when you tell yourself you are perfect just as you are, when you love yourself and everything about yourself. You stop criticizing yourself, you are happier, you are a better person to be around, and you can now help others and work without the insecurities you had before.

This is not a magical state, and doesn’t require any new tools or books. It’s simple, and I’ll share what has worked for me.

Learning to Be Content 

If you are in a bad place in your life, and are unhappy with everything about it (job, relationship, yourself, house, habits, etc.), it can be a miserable thing. But here’s something interesting: it can also be a happy thing.

I’ve been in situations where you might think things were bad, and sometimes I was very unhappy, and other times I was happy. The difference wasn’t in the external circumstances, but in my mindset — I learned to appreciate what I had, instead of focusing on the things I didn’t have or didn’t like. I was grateful for my health, for the people in my life, for having food and being alive.

If you can learn to develop the right mindset, you can be happy now, without changing anything else. You don’t need to wait until you’ve changed everything and made your life perfect before you’re happy — you have everything you need to be happy right now.

The mindset of waiting for happiness is a never-ending cycle. You get a better job (yay!) and then immediately start thinking about what your next promotion will be. You get a nicer house and immediately start looking at how nice your neighbors’ houses are, or the faults in the house you have. You try to change your spouse or kids, and if that works (good luck), you’ll find other things about them that need to be changed. It keeps going, until you die.

Instead, learn that you can be content now, without any external changes. Here’s how to start:

1.  Take a moment to be grateful for something. What in your life is amazing? Even if everything seems to suck, there must be one good thing. It might simply be that you have beauty somewhere nearby, or that you are alive, or that your kids are healthy. Find something, and give thanks for that.

2.  Catch yourself thinking, “This sucks.” It’s amazing how often people think this thought. “This sucks!” “My co-worker is the worst — he sucks!” “My wife doesn’t understand me — this suuucks!” It might be in different words, but if you catch yourself thinking something like that, pause. Reverse the thinking. Find a way to be thankful for the situation. “My wife is a caring and sweet person — maybe I should give her a hug.” “My co-worker might be annoying sometimes, but he has a good heart, and maybe I should get to know him better.” “My room might be messy but at least I have a roof over my head.”

3.  Find the little things that can give you simple joys. What do you need to be happy? I love simple things, like taking a walk, spending time with a loved one, reading a book, eating some berries, drinking tea. These cost very little, and require very little, and can make me very happy. Find the simple things that give you similar happiness, and focus on those rather than what you don’t have.

4.  Find the things about yourself that you’re happy with. We tend to criticize ourselves easily, but what if we turned it around and asked, “What do I do right? What am I good at? What is loveable about me?” Make a list. Start to focus on these things rather than what you’re unhappy with.

5.  Do the same with others in your life. Instead of criticizing them, ask yourself, “What is good about this person? What do I love about them?” Make a list, and focus on these things above all else.

6.  Assume that you, others, and life are perfect. You are great, and don’t need improvement. You aren’t a piece of clay that must be shaped and molded into something better — you are already perfect. Other people are also just as perfect, and don’t need improvement. You just need to appreciate them for who they are. The moment we are living in is not a stepping stone to something better — it is exactly wonderful, and we have already arrived at the perfect moment.

The Contented Life

It might be useful to look at what life would be like if you learned to be content:

1.  Self image. We compare ourselves with the images in our head of perfection — movie stars, models in magazines, other people who seem to have it all together — and we can never measure up to those perfect images. But those images are not real. They are an imagined ideal. Even the beautiful people have bad hair days and feel flabby, and if you take away their photoshopped and heavily-made-up façade, you see that they are every bit as human as you are. Even the people who seem successful, living exciting lives — they have the same self-doubts you have. So if they don’t live up to this ideal image, why should you? And even if they did (which they don’t), why would you need to? When we let go of this image of perfection, we realize that we are already exactly who we should be. And then, all our need for self-improvement, and all the activity and effort and pain that implies, fades away. We are happy with ourselves, and nothing else is needed.

2.  Relationships. If you are content with yourself, you are more likely to be a good friend, partner, parent. You are more likely to be happy and friendly and loving, more likely to be as accepting of others as you are of yourself. Relationships improve, especially when others learn to be content with themselves, from your example.

3.  Health. Much of our culture’s unhealthiness comes from unhappiness — eating junk food to give ourselves comfort and relieve stress, not exercising because we think we can’t (because we have a bad self-image), being glued online because we think we might miss something if we turn off the computer or iPhone. When you realize that you aren’t missing anything, and you don’t need junk food to be happy, and you are good enough to exercise, you can slowly return to health.

4.  Possessions. The overload of possessions in our lives comes from unhappiness — we buy things because we think they’ll give us comfort, coolness, happiness, security, an exciting life. When we become content with ourselves and our lives, we realize none of that is necessary, and we can start getting rid of these extraneous crutches.

5.  Busy-ness. Much of our busy-ness comes from fear that we should be doing more, that we might be missing out, that we aren’t enough already. But we are enough, and we don’t need more, and we aren’t missing out. So we can let go of a lot of unnecessary activity, and just focus on doing what we love, and give ourselves the space to enjoy a contented life.

This is all just a few scratches on the surface of a contented life, but it gives you a picture of what might be. And the truth is, once you learn the simple trick of contentedness, it’s really a picture of what already is. You just need to let go of the fears, and see what is already here.

‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ ~Lao Tzu


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life is a Dream

by Jeff Mason

Metaphors draw two unlikely suspects together in an illuminating way. The metaphor “Achilles is a lion” is not literally true, unless I have a lion named “Achilles.” Yet it draws attention to the courage and strength of the hero with a punch that straight prose lacks. “X is brave and strong” applies to many people. The metaphor distinguishes Achilles from others who are also brave and strong. Metaphors make readers think about the deeper identity that underlies surface differences. A good one sparks new thoughts and connections between ideas, but metaphors are never literally true.

“Life is a dream” is a well known metaphor. On the surface, seeking an identity between waking life and dreaming seems unpromising. After all, we distinguish ‘dreaming’ from ‘waking life’, and without this contrast, it would no longer make sense to speak of ‘dreaming’ in the first place. Life is real, but dreams are not. No matter how vivid at the time, what happens in dreams does not actually happen. I dream that I marry the boss’s daughter, but wake up to find it is time to go to work sweeping her dad’s factory floor. I can fly in my dreams, but not in waking life. There are other contrasts. Time is disjointed in dreams, but can be mapped using clock time in ‘real life’. I wake to a continuing life, but each dream is complete in itself. It is extremely rare, I would imagine, to continue last night’s dream tonight. Dreams certainly appear illusory in comparison with normal waking life.

At this point, we might ask why “Life is a Dream” has captured so much attention over the years? From what direction do we hear it? The metaphor seems to be coming from an esoteric tradition, from mysticism, Taoism, or perhaps Buddhism. As a realistically-minded philosopher, I have resisted the idea that life is somehow a dream. And yet, I have thought about it over the years. I stub my toe. It hurts. Is this a dream? I lose my job, my wife, my cat and my dog. Are these just dreams? The world aches with war, plague, death, hatred, hunger and despair. Are all these dreams? Are the suffering of millions just illusions?

Another way I have resisted the life/dream metaphor is by rejecting mysticism as not sufficiently rational. In one strand of the mystical tradition as I understand it, what the ignorant normally call ‘life’ is actually illusory. It is the veil of Maya, fueled by craving for the unreal and delusional delights of trying to satisfy endlessly proliferating desires. Everything is changing in every way all the time. Nothing stays the same. We are supposed to escape from the illusion of Maya and the wheel of life (Samsara) by understanding that life is just a dream, and all this ceaseless striving is a kind of sleepwalking. Best to give up the desires which give birth to the world of craving. This sounds good, but once again we are up against the fact that life feels real to those who are struggling to survive in a difficult and frightening world. Thinking that life is just a dream seemed to me just an excuse to forget about the world and all the problems we find there.

After coming to these dark reflections, I found a question to move forward. Are dreams actually the same as illusions? Consider an optical illusion. Once we find out that it is an illusion, our minds corrects for the faulty perception. A straight stick looks bent when it is half under water. Once we learn a little optics, we see why it looks this way. Of course, it might be a bent stick after all, but that would just be funny. Are dreams illusions like this? I think not. No matter how sure I am that it was a dream after I wake up, there is no way to ‘correct’ for the illusion while in the dream itself. Dreams just do seem real at the time.

First of all, a dream is not illusory on its own terms. While dreaming, the dream is real. Second, dreams have meaning. To say that something is a dream is not to say that it is meaningless, pointless or trivial. Third, and most importantly, though dreams do vanish upon waking, the ephemeral nature of dreams does not detract from their existence or significance.

From this standpoint, there is a deep identity between dreams and waking life. For me, it has to do with the varnishing of days and dreams together. Yesterday has all the phenomenological reality of yesterday’s dream. It is gone, not to be retrieved. Yesterday is like a play that ran its course, stirred up actions and passions, and then passed away in sleep. What is the memory of the wonderful trip you took to the sea shore last summer but a dream? This is the deep structural identity of memories, dreams and waking life.


Life is but a dream


“Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”

This is my all-time favorite rhyme. Although it’s considered a children’s song, it is packed with meaning and inspiration for us big kids too!

Over the years, several different metaphors and meanings have been ascribed to this ditty. Following is my own take on these four wonderful lines.

The boat

The boat signifies this body, the transitory home to one’s pure awareness. It is the vessel for moving, learning, and growing. The body serves as the basis through which we can actualize our full potential and realize the true nature of our mind and the universe. How marvelous!

If you look around, you will notice that humans are far outnumbered by the millions of other beings on this planet. Just the number of insects in a big pile of dirt is enormous. In my spiritual tradition, this is the logic behind the belief that it is extremely rare and also precious to be born a human.

Why precious? Because – unlike animals – humans have the awareness and intelligence that can bring about complete personal transformation. We can train our being in limitless love, kindness, compassion, and equanimity. We can learn to let our wisdom mind shine forth.

But a human life isn’t thought to be particularly special if it’s wasted on materialistic pursuits alone. It only becomes unique when we recognize the extraordinary spiritual opportunity it provides to us.

Now, you may not believe in reincarnation, and that’s OK. But the main point to extract from all this is to recognize and appreciate the tremendous opportunity this lifetime holds. You never know when or if you will have the chance of a lifetime again. Afterall, death is real and comes without warning.

So, as the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. Don’t waste this precious opportunity! Celebrate every moment and use this life for the highest purposes. At the same time, be sure to take good care of your boat – it is a precious vehicle.

Row, row, row

Without rowing, your boat won’t move – will it?

It may end up stuck on the shore, swept violently along by turbulent flows, or crashed to bits over a waterfall. Reaching your destination requires effort, discipline, and clarity of direction.

Distractions abound – don’t let them pull you off your course. At the same time, hold your destination lightly in mind and heart. Stay open. The universe may hold entirely different possibilities for you! Don’t be so tightly focused on one destination that you miss your true path.

Rowing may require effort, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. When you have a glimpse of the mystery and magic all around you, diligence is naturally infused with joy.

Gently down the stream

Pushing too hard only creates stress, tension, and illness. As popular wisdom tells us, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” The stream of life passes magically before us. Enjoy the fullness of the moment as it streams by. Don’t cling to the past. Just let go!

Merrily, merrily, merrily

Attitude is everything. A gentle, playful spirit will magnetize positivity and good results.

Chances are suffering and challenges will arise on the journey. Use them well. With the right perspective, they will fuel personal evolution. Persevere in choosing joy, whatever comes your way.

Life is but a dream

Life is often likened to an illusion – a dream, a magic show, a visual aberration, a mirage, an echo, a reflection. All that arises in our mind and in the world around us appears yet is empty of inherent existence.

In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the illustrious 19th century spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche explains how it is when you come to taste the dreamlike quality of reality:

“…objects that appear to it [the mind] do not stop appearing, but the concepts that take them as having any true existence subside. To leave the mind in the realization of the nature of reality, empty yet clear like the sky, is transcendent wisdom.”

Although the world continues to appear before us, and thoughts and emotions continue to arise in the mind, you recognize their transitory, ephemeral nature. When you gradually take to heart the illusory quality of existence, joy, ease, wonder, and spaciousness bubble up inside.

At the same time, a sense of universal responsibility awakens within as you come to observe and appreciate the truth of interdependence. You understand that your actions matter. They have an effect, positive or negative. Understanding this and knowing that negative actions harm you too, you act for the better of all. In fact, compassion naturally pervades your every thought and deed when you hold this profound view of reality lightly in your heart.

The brilliant 14th century spiritual master Longchenpa wrote these beautiful words to capture the unceasing play of emptiness and appearance.

“Since things neither exist nor don’t exist,
are neither real nor unreal,
are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting -
one might as well burst out laughing.”

Imagine what the world would be like if we all adopted such a carefree yet compassionate view of life!

What meanings do you find in this 4-line “children’s” rhyme? Is there another rhyme that resonates meaning and inspiration for you?

Please Note: This is a guest post by my dear and wise friend Sandra Lee from Always Well Within.

About the Author:
Sandra Lee writes about living an awake, authentic, happier and healthier life on her personal development blog Always Well Within. Her articles offer a unique blend of personal transformation, wellness, ecology, and essential wisdom to help you realize your best self and be part of creating a better world.You can keep up with her by following her on Twitter @AlwaysWellWithn


A true message that should be taught in schools across the world

Timber Hawkeye has a very simple guide to happiness - 2 words: be grateful. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. In this TEDx talk, Hawkeye observes that all of our suffering is self-inflicted, and that we have a misguided notion that happiness is something we have to "pursue." He shares some simple prescriptions for inner peace and tranquility: slow down, sit. There is nothing you need to buy; nowhere you need to go. Just spend a few minutes each day taking inventory of everything in your life that is worth appreciating.